Oilers improve from new system

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

At times during training camp, it would have seemed more appropriate for the Oilers to bring a pen to practice than a hockey stick.

The new coaching staff has tried to ingrain their new system of play into the minds of the players through numerous on-ice chalk talks and endless repetition.

Tonight's season opener against the Calgary Flames will be the first indication whether the message is getting through.

"I've never been one to make a game plan so elaborate so that you can't execute it, unless you really practise it," said Oilers head coach Pat Quinn.

"Our guys understand our system of play and what the jobs are that they have to do and what they have to do to execute them."

The most significant change the Oilers made this off-season is behind the bench. Quinn, Tom Renney and Wayne Fleming were brought in to get out of the roster what Craig MacTavish, Charlie Huddy and Billy Moores couldn't.

That has meant revamping everything, from the way the Oilers break out of their zone, generate offence, kill penalties and work the power play. It was a lot to absorb in a relatively short period of time.

"A lot of us are very smart guys, so I don't think a bunch of Xs and Os are going to be a problem for us," said defenceman Sheldon Souray. "We're welcoming the change and the information is something we needed. Structure in any walk of life is good. We have that right now, we have a game plan and guys are excited to go out and try to put our stamp on the game.

"We haven't had an identity for a while here, but now we have that framework and we're going to do something good with it."

With seven of their first nine games at home, the Oilers won't have much leeway to work through the kinks of their new system. It'll be imperative they keep the mistakes to a minimum until it all becomes second nature.

"You can win a lot of games in the first part of the season if your structure and your team game is pretty sound," said Oilers captain Ethan Moreau.

"You can get really valuable points early in the season just by being ready.

"There won't be too much of a feeling process for our team and when we start (tonight), we want to start well, because we know how important that is."

The new system emphasizes the importance of being defensively responsible. At times it's a tough sell for offensive-minded players.

"We have to buy in to that system, we have to have a committed effort to get five players back into our zone and play good defence," Moreau said.

"We should have that mindset, because we don't have a tremendously gifted offensive team. We don't have a lot of guys that can score more than 20 goals, so we have to play as a five-man unit up and down the ice and as a result of that, we'll score a lot more goals."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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